Role play: Student as examiner

Science teacher Ian Horsewell regularly relinquishes control of the red pen and encourages his students to play the role of examiner. The exercise, he says, shows his students what an exam aims to assess, and ultimately helps improve their exam technique.

“I can’t read that word, so I’m not giving the mark.”

“They’ve not linked the cause and the effect, so only one mark out of two for this part.”

“Your final answer is wrong, but the working is okay. Shall we figure out where you went wrong with the calculation?”

These aren’t the transcripts of a moderation meeting. They’re not recordings of a teacher speaking to a class, or discussion in a staff room. Instead, these are comments from GCSE science students who spent thirty minutes as examiners, using mark schemes they had agreed as a group to assess each other’s work. My aim for this role play is to give students a much more informed view of what exam papers are for, and what those marking their scripts will be looking for.

As exam season approaches, many departments expect – or require – the use of past papers to help students prepare. There are many ways to use these, and I feel it is important not to use them solely as practice in silence. There are many more imaginative ways to use them as a teaching tool as well as for rehearsing the exam itself. Many of these methods, of course, fit well into teaching long before the assessment itself.

Thinking like an examiner

Giving students a red pen and inviting them to comment on another’s work changes how the classroom works. They can be very critical at first, and I’ve found it works well to use a few pre-prepared sample questions and answers before they reach for each other’s work.

 Inviting students to put three sample scripts in order of grade, with their justifications, helps them see that it is possible to progress from ‘acceptable’ to ‘excellent’ answers. Using their suggestions of the hallmarks of good work – clear and correct working, appropriate vocabulary, a logical sequence of ideas, attention paid to the details of the paper – you can build a class mark scheme for a question. Comparing this to official guidelines prompts discussion of what the examiner is looking for and why.

The comments at the start of this piece came from a session in which I divided a paper in two; students attempted a random half in exam conditions and collaborated to produce a mark scheme for the remainder. They worked in pairs to mark each other’s work and then made immediate improvements, choosing from specific targets I supplied.

That I could predict typical feedback comments before seeing their work reinforced that these issues were both fairly common and fixable. We talked about how to make it easier to translate their knowledge and skills into exam marks by good technique, and how to balance detail with a reasonable pace. Having a generous and a harsh student marker discuss their different interpretations in front of the class showed how ambiguous or unclear answers caused problems and could lose them marks.

Knowing where you’re going wrong is the first step in improving. I hope that by learning this lesson with and from their classmates, my students will avoid this happening in the next few months when they are the examined rather than the examiner.

Ian Horsewell is a science teacher in a successful Midlands comprehensive school

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